Commerce secy defends WTO stand, refutes rumours on food stockpiling

This is not a fight to protect Indian trade interests but an independent nation’s sovereign right to provide food to the poor, says Rajeev Kher in meeting with African delegation

shreerupa

Shreerupa Mitra-Jha | August 21, 2014 | New Delhi


India hopes to find a solution to foodgrain stockpiling issue at WTO when it reopens in September.
India hopes to find a solution to foodgrain stockpiling issue at WTO when it reopens in September.

Commerce secretary Rajeev Kher has dismissed rumours that India opposed the trade facilitation agreement (TFA) so it could dump cheap grains in Africa under the garb of food security.

Speaking at an interactive session between heads of regional economic communities (RECs) of Africa and the Indian stakeholders, organised by the confederation of Indian industry (CII), Kher said that the Narendra Modi government is concerned about the strong attempts in Geneva to mislead and misinform other nations regarding India’s motives for its stand on stockpiling in the world trade organization (WTO). “This is not a fight for protecting Indian [trade] interests but an independent nation’s sovereign right to provide food to its poor,” he explained.

The third meeting between India and the RECs of Africa was held on August 20-21 in New Delhi.

Emphasising that eight African nations implement ongoing food security programmes through stockpiling, the commerce secretary said China, Latin American countries and 21 other nations have food security programmes despite reaching their de minimus levels on stockpiling. India, Kher stressed, has not reached that stage.

“Though many countries support the proposal, they are unable to come out for a variety of reasons, and thus it is being perceived as an Indian proposal,” Kher said.

New Delhi is hopeful of finding a solution to the foodgrain stockpiling issue at WTO when it reopens in September.

On July 31, India had decided not to ratify the WTO TFA without finding a solution to the public stockpiling for food security purposes, which is perceived, mostly by developed countries, to be a trade-distorting subsidy to farmers under existing WTO rules. 

Assuaging the visiting delegation, Kher said that according to the Bali ministerial declarations, no country exercising a right to food clause will be allowed to export from its public stockpiling. In this context, he reminded heads of the delegation from African nations about India’s role in the patent versus generic drugs issue, which led to the opening of generic production of drugs in Africa, without which many Africans would not be able to afford drugs.

Kher also pointed out the strengthening trade relations between African nations and India – in 2003-04, 6 percent of India’s total exports were to Africa, which increased to 10 percent in 2013-14. Since the trade basket is diversifying, Kher also stressed the need for achieving greater complementarity between trade and services. The Indian government has expanded the duty-free, quota-free goods, which includes 98.4 percent of tariff lines from least developed countries (LDCs). Africa will be a major beneficiary of this.

Six of the eight RECs came for the meeting, which is seen as a precursor to the India-Africa forum summit in December this year where India has invited 54 African nations with whom it has diplomatic relations. The six RECs that attended the meet are common market for eastern and southern Africa (COMESA), east African community (EAC), economic community of central African states (ECCAS), inter-governmental authority on development (IGAD), the southern Africa development community (SADC), and the community of Sahel-Saharan states (CENSAD).

The economic community of west African states (ECOWAS) and the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) have not participated in the meetings.

The first and second India-RECs meetings were also held in New Delhi in November 2010 and 2011.

Though Africa has a number of RECs, only these eight are recognised by the African Union.


 

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